The famous political philosopher Robert Nozick once devised a thought experiment known as the Experience Machine.
The experiment consists of giving a person a choice between experiencing everyday reality, or offering them the chance to enter the Machine and experience for the rest of their lives an apparently preferable, simulated reality, where their every dream and desire is fulfilled.
Although politics will always be a part of F1, political philosophy and F1 is rarely thought of as a suitable pairing. Yet, Nozick's experiment provides a good analysis of the 2012 F1 season, which undoubtedly delivered entertainment and drama, but also left some with doubts about whether this is the real F1, and if it is still attached to the history and principles that made our sport so captivating.
These doubts were fuelled by the question of whether DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres amount to a simulated entertainment, and if that really is preferable to a reality in which they did not exist.
The reality of pre-DRS F1 was that the 2000's mainly consisted of monotonous races; overtaking was a rare occurrence and those who qualified in the top ten were those who generally finished the race in the top ten. When we take a look further back in time however, towards different eras and different technical regulations, we find that overtaking and its art were the markers that separated good drivers from the greats.
We find that races could be characterised by protracted battles between the same two drivers, and that the fans in the armchair could be up out of their seats in celebration as an audacious manoeuvre was pulled-off after lap after lap of aggressive posturing.
The reality of the present is that overtaking is now as common-place as it was in the years before F1 races slipped into a seemingly never-ending cycle of processions. Yet it is harder to become excited about a DRS-assisted pass that takes place on a straight piece of tarmac, with the defensive and offensive race-crafts of either driver rendered pointless. It is nice to know that there is the real possibility of a potential race-winner making a charge through the field, as Vettel so memorably did to clinch the title in Brazil. Yet, the presence of DRS serves to take away from the achievement when compared to other memorable charges from years past.
Nozick claims that one reason people will choose not to plug into his Experience Machine is that it limits us to a man-made reality, and that there is no contact with deeper reality. In this sense, if a driver knows that they can use DRS, they will see no reason to risk an overtake before the DRS zone. Overtaking becomes a routine operation with the push of a button, and the kind of driving that captivates audiences is abandoned for the simplistic pleasure of seeing one car pass another. When compared to famous moves from the past, it barely deserves to be termed an 'overtake'. Because of this, DRS cannot be allowed to become the long-term answer to the question about how F1 should continue to remain entertaining, since it detracts too much from the skill of drivers that are supposedly the best in the world.
In a similar vein, 2012's Pirelli tyres and their sensitivity to temperature contributed to seven different winners in seven races at the start of the season, and perhaps allowed for drivers that could manage their tyres better than others to showcase their talents. But the price of this Pirelli rubber is that drivers are no longer able to push their cars to the limit. The tyres had to be nurtured, not punished.
For a sport that claims itself to be the fastest and most technical on the planet, the fact that drivers are neutered in their approach to races; on occasion driving 10 seconds slower than their qualifying laps and closer to GP2 pace than F1 lap records, takes something away from the competition. So too does the fact that such intricately and expensively designed cars are reduced to a seemingly pathetic reliance on rubber that proved to be as erratic as Pastor Maldonado's form this season.
It is certainly refreshing to be able go into races with the Murray Walker-like anticipation that literally anything can happen, but the entertainment is at the expense of sporting values. Another reason that Nozick provides to not plug into the Machine is that people want to do certain things, not just have the experiences of doing them. Pirelli tyres and DRS provide fans with the experience of exciting races, but because they are features that seem alien to the sport's previous eras, such races are incomparable to the kinds of exciting races that took place before their introduction.
The excitement in modern F1 has been simulated for us, rather than earned. It is for this reason that technical changes are needed to eliminate the need for such simulation, but it may be the case that many are happy to simply avoid the monotonous reality of the 2000's, and carry on with the preferable but flawed status quo.
by Joshua Bonser